Continued from page 1

Most analysts expect oil prices, which account for about two-thirds of the cost of gasoline, to return to their historic role of driving gas prices at some point in the years ahead, particularly as rapid growth in demand for oil in China and other developing nations starts to create shortages of oil in world markets.

In the meantime, the outlook for new refineries in the United States — or even adding to the capacity of existing ones — remains poor, said Michael Canes, economic consultant at the Energy Policy Research Foundation.

“Consumers will benefit if additions to refining capacity keep pace with demand,” he said, but “from a refiner’s perspective, uncertainties abound.”

The new Democratic leadership, rather than offering tax incentives and other enticements to build new plants, is enacting tax increases and other penalties, he said. A Senate-passed bill would punish suppliers of gasoline with severe fines for any purported “price gouging” during an emergency such as a hurricane.

Also clouding the outlook for refiners are vows by President Bush and Democratic leaders to cut oil consumption by 20 percent through stricter fuel-efficiency requirement on cars and trucks and greater use of ethanol — developments that would take years to carry out but still raise questions about whether new gasoline refineries are needed in the long run, he said.